Sundance ’10 | Jeffrey Blitz: “Lucky” Director’s Upside Down Exploration of the American Dream

Sundance '10 | Jeffrey Blitz: "Lucky" Director's Upside Down Exploration of the American Dream

Jeffrey Blitz, the filmmaker behind Oscar-nominated “Spellbound” as well as “Rocket Science,” which won him the Directing Prize at the 2007 Sundance Fest, is back with his latest documentary, “Lucky.” The director, who has been working hard directing episodes of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” returns to what brought him onto the scene, chronicling the lives of ordinary Americans who go through extraordinary experiences.

“Lucky crisscrosses the country, examining a handful of past lottery winners as they navigate their newly found riches and a couple of extremely determined hopefuls. The winners’ lives are undoubtedly changed forever but not necessarily in the ways we may expect. Life becomes complicated as attorneys, hired security guards, jealous friends, scheming family members, and desperate pleas for help from strangers pepper their new existence.

Veteran director Jeffrey Blitz (Spellbound, Rocket Science—2007 Sundance Film Festival Directing Award winner) has skillfully crafted a revealing look at the way one’s identity is undoubtedly turned upside down after the big payout. Thoroughly involving, Lucky cleverly strips off the veneer and shatters our perceptions about the ultimate American dream.” [Synopsis courtesy of Sundance Film Festival]

U.S. Documentary Competition
Director: Jeffrey Blitz
Executive Producers: Rebecca Morton, Liz Manne, Catherine Tait
Producers: Sean Welch, Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, Jeb Brody
Composer: Eef Barzelay
Editor: Yana Gorskaya
Animator: Walter Robot
87 min.

Blitz recalls the road to becoming a filmmaker…
I went into film because, as a college sophomore, I took a film class that started with a study of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. Nothing was the same for me after that.  It was like realizing that the world you thought you knew is actually full of hidden meaning and secret codes.  What could be better?  I studied fiction and film at Johns Hopkins, went to grad school at USC and then made “Spellbound” with Sean Welch and Yana Gorskaya right out of school.  “Spellbound” begat “Lucky” (which we actually started filming before anything else) and “Rocket Science” and my all episodic work on “The Office.”

And taking on those “Lucky” Lotto winners…
After “Spellbound,” I wanted to do another kind of American exploration. Sean and I poured over ideas for a year before we got an email out of the blue from Rebecca Morton, a total stranger to us at the time.  It was like an over-the-transom email. Rebecca pitched us on the lottery idea and right away it clicked with us as a great companion piece to “Spellbound”: an upside-down exploration of the American Dream. We were hooked. We pitched the idea around town, discovered the perfect partners in Big Beach and we were on our way. Rebecca, by the way, moved out to Los Angeles for a good stretch and became an integral part of the development of the movie.

It was surprisingly hard to get lottery winners who were willing to participate. I guess, in retrospect, I was pretty naive to think it would be otherwise. They are people who go in one day from total anonymity to complete exposure, which inevitably entails being inundated with requests from the media and people trying to separate them from their money. By necessity, winners tend to wall themselves off from the outside world pretty quickly. It took some really deft producing to climb enough walls that we could find people who would allow us in and who had unfolding stories that were interesting enough to include. 

Blitz on Sundance…
I happen to think Sundance audiences are no different than audiences in general. I don’t think it’s a more or less rarefied crowd. I think the only distinguishing feature of the Sundance crowd (and I include myself in that) is how deeply passionate we are as film-goers. We’ll wake up way too early and trudge through snow to see a movie in a synagogue. That’s passion. I hope that audiences at Sundance or wherever respond to “Lucky” because it defies expectation. I know for myself, most expectations I had about what a movie about the lottery would be got upended pretty fast. I’d like to think our audiences will feel the same way.

Blitz on inspirations…
“Weekend at Bernie’s.” No, that’s not (entirely) true. A more truthful but less excellent answer would be that I was watching a lot of Michael Apted’s “7 Up” series and it became increasingly clear that allowing some time to pass in the lives of the winners, while murderous on our production schedule, might help give “Lucky” a really compelling shape. So many years later, and with the blessing of our wondrously patient partners at Big Beach, we’re finally ready to let go.

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

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